Friday, April 11, 2003
The measure of their days: Cashbooks in the Historical Society collection
Cashbooks are not exciting. Unlike diaries or journals, they reveal no inner thoughts or secrets. They are a simple documentation of daily life; but even in their simplicity they have the ability to tell us much about the past. The Carlisle Historical Society Collection contains the cashbooks of several local men. Among them are those belonging to Timothy Adams and B. P. Hutchins. Hutchins's crisp mid-nineteenth-century recording of services rendered and employee hours worked fit into a neat wallet-style cashbook that could be stashed in a coat pocket. On the other hand, Captain Timothy Adams's cashbook is a ledger, thick with twine-bound pages and covered with leather. Too weighty to fit in a pocket, it is instead meant to rest on a kitchen table. Adams's rustic cashbook predates Hutchins's by a half century.
Captain Timothy Adams was born in Chelmsford in 1757 and was buried there about 1824, but he spent his life farming in Carlisle. A Revolutionary War soldier who saw action at Bunker Hill, he married Joanna Keyes of Westford in 1781 and together they raised 11 children on their North Street farm. The notes and accounts that he left behind in his cashbook provide insight into the daily life of an early nineteenth-century farmer. The cashbook shows that Adams made his living through agriculture and blacksmithing. For example, in 1803 he charged various fees for "shoeing a pair of oxen, mending chain, making two bucket hoops, two plow shears (sic), plating two plows, shoeing a horse." Inside the front cover of the cashbook he wrote: "April 22, 1804 then stol (sic) from the Blacksmith Shop one anvil, two sledges, four hammers, five tongs, vise, and other small articles." It is not clear whether the tools belonged to him, but the incident was important enough to record in a prominent place. Below he writes that in October the anvil was found in Nathaniel Dutton's orchard. Here he also records a description of the ear marks of his cattle, as well as the birth of an illegitimate child. But for the most part, the book does not function as a diary, merely as a record of transactions.
In 1807, he performed the following services for Nathaniel Stearns:
To part a day in January killing a cow
March·to part a day winnowing rye
To one day laying wall
To half day tarring apple trees
To one day plowing
To one day soeing (sic) oats and harroeing (sic)
To one day carting lime
To one day getting well sweep
To one day thrashing (sic) rye
The list supplies evidence of the kind of work done daily by Timothy Adams, as well as providing a brief overview of a farmer's year.
On a loose sheet of paper tucked between pages 96 and 97 is a list of bounty paid on pigeons. On September 5, 1808, Capt. Samuel Stevens was paid for one dozen, Daniel Hayden for nine, Abel Nickles for nine, and Stephen Nickles for six.
On June 28, 1811, Adams wrote: "This day I bought a mare of Moses Foster of Peacham of Vermont for 20 dollars," indicating that he traded with people outside the immediate area. In March 1820 he was a witness in a court case at the Supreme Court in Concord. For attending court for two days he received two dollars and "travel." A month later he earned a fee for "Appraising Ezekial Proctor Estate and setting the widow her thirds." In February he had acted as auctioneer for the estate, which he recorded as "To venduing the estate of Ezekial Proctor, deceased." Proctor had died in December 1819 at age fifty-one.
Adams kept an account of goods and services provided for Widow Davis in 1814 and 1815:
May 25 to 5# veal at 5 cents
July 8 to half a bushel of meal corn
To half a bushel of rye meal
Oct. to 2 men and four oxen carting wood half day
November To half peck of meal and one pound butter at 22 cents
12·to Two quarts of salt
To a part of a day carting wood
Jan 1815 6 and a half salt pork
half peck rye meal and half peck indian meal
May·To peck of meal and one dozen eggs
one quart of vinegar
The account includes items that we might expect a widow to need: wood in October to stock the woodpile for the winter, but also those we might not: eggs and butter. Clearly Mrs. Davis depended on Adams for many things, even staples like cornmeal and vinegar.
One of the most interesting entries was made on September 23, 1815: "The great and mighty wind that blew down building (sic) and trees in great numbers." This is Adams' observation of the Great September Gale of 1815, a hurricane that made landfall near Saybrook, Connecticut. The storm took a path north through New England, causing massive forest blowdowns in eastern Massachusetts, property and crop damage and casualties.
"Then I raisd (sic) my saw mill," he wrote in November 1815. The saw mill provided him with another source of income as he cut and planed lumber and sold it to his neighbors. Joseph White's account with Adams lists: "To 55 feet of white oak plank." By 1820 he also had a cider mill that he used to press cider for sale, as well as charging his neighbors for its use. He sold Joseph White one barrel of cider and charged Benjamin Baldwin 30 cents to use the mill to make his own cider.
In 1824, Timothy Adams's signature ceases to be found on accounts as they are reconciled. Instead, they are signed by his son, Benjamin. Timothy Adams had died, but his place in Carlisle was filled seamlessly by this fifth son, who completed his father's accounts, continued his work, and raised his own family on the homeplace.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito